ALCO: The Bugatti Veyron of its era

Early 1900s Road Jet: One of the most expensive cars available in the U.S., costing between $5,500-$9,000

The American Locomotive Company, later known as ALCO, was founded in 1901 and went on to become the second largest steam locomotive manufacturer in the United States, producing more than 75,000 units.

Having secured a license from the French automobile manufacturer Marius Berliet of Lyons, who built his first car in 1894, ALCO diversified its business interests and moved into automobile manufacturing in 1906. The early cars, like most competitor cars, were chain driven but this changed in 1908 when they switched to shaft drive.

The ALCO was the Bugatti Veyron of the era; it was one of the most expensive cars available in the U.S., with a sticker price between $5,500 and $9,000.

The company claimed that it took one year and seven months to build a single car. I think that must have been directed at just some of the 54 different variations that they built, which included commercial vehicles and taxis, because the numbers don’t add up considering ALCO Produced 5,000 vehicles in their short seven-year history.

Despite the company having its best ever financial year in 1913, with earnings of $34 million, it still lost $460 on every vehicle built.

Not surprisingly, the ALCO Board decided to derail the automobile division, resulting in 1,200 job losses. The board felt that their future was in trains.

The ALCO losses were minor compared to the Bugatti losses; the Economist estimates that the Volkswagen Group has lost $6.2 million on every Veyron built (390 to date). The world’s fastest supercar, has an average retail price of $2.2 million.

It is hard to believe that having built 5,000 vehicles, just 12 ALCO examples are known to exist today. The photographed example is being offered for sale at the Amelia Island Gooding & Co auction on March 7 and it is estimated it will fetch between $300,000 and $400,000.

The auctioneer’s gavel will indicate if the interest in the once imposing, most powerful and most famous ALCO, known as the “Black Beast” and the winner of the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup, will find a home in a serious collection or museum.

(Visit to see a video of Emerson Fittipaldi driving the Black Beast at the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500).

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